Illegal XL bully owners should comply with officers if their dog is seized because their behaviour may influence a court’s decision to have it put down, a police chief warned.

It is now a criminal offence to own an XL bully dog in England and Wales without an exemption certificate, meaning unregistered pets will be taken and owners possibly fined and prosecuted.

Around 40,000 of the large bulldog-type American breed were expected to have been registered before the deadline on Wednesday afternoon, but there may be thousands without certificates.

National Police Chiefs’ Council dangerous dogs lead Mark Hobrough has urged members of the public to report any XL bully owners not following the rules so officers can assess the animals.

Seized dogs will be taken to kennels before a court decides if they should either be destroyed or deemed not a danger to public safety.

Assistant Chief Constable Hobrough told the PA news agency: “I would urge everybody to comply with the law and the legislation. If people haven’t put their dog on the database already they are committing an absolute offence.

“We are as police forces going to be enforcing the law. We didn’t create the law but we do enforce the law and we will have to execute warrants and seize dogs and take action towards such dog owners.

“I would encourage strongly people to be compliant if that were the situation with their own dogs because one of the very tests that is made about a dog or an owner (in court) is that the dog is not aggressive, but also that the owner is fit and responsible and not aggressive also.

“So if either of those things were not complied with, then there would be no option for a court then but to destroy the dog.”

ACC Hobrough said officers, if met with resistance, will take “proportionate action with minimum use of force” to seize dogs.

The recent ban may spark higher demand for kennels and cause “logistical challenges” for officers, ACC Hobrough said, with police forces “actively looking to enhance” the numbers they can hold.

XL bully dog restrictions
The number of XL bullies in the country has ranged between 50,000 and 100,000, according to the RSPCA (Jacob King/PA)

There are 137 dog legislation officers across the country, with at least one in every force.

The Government move to ban XL bullies followed a series of attacks on people.

In October last year, a woman was injured after she was attacked by her own American XL bully in Norfolk.

A month earlier 52-year-old Ian Price, from Staffordshire, died in hospital after being attacked by two American XL bullies.

In November 2021 Jack Lis, 10, was killed by a American XL bully while at a friend’s house in South Wales.

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said: “The ban on XL bullies is now in place meaning it is illegal to own one of these dogs unless it has been registered.

“We have delivered our pledge to bring in this important measure to protect public safety, and we expect all XL bully owners to comply with the strict conditions.”

When the ban was announced the government launched a compensation scheme for owners to have their dogs put down, with more than 150 claims received.

The total number of XL bullies, estimated by animal groups, has ranged between 50,000 and 100,000, the RSPCA has said.

Its dog welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines said: “The ban on XL bullies not only remains devastating for so many dogs, but is also taking a heavy toll on owners, on rescue centre staff who have grown close to dogs in their care, and to veterinary teams who face the prospect of being asked to put to sleep healthy dogs whose behaviour poses no risk.”

A Dog Control Coalition spokesperson said: “We are concerned about the rise in dog-related incidents and steps must be taken to protect the public, but we do not believe that banning any type or breed of dog will stop these types of incidents from occurring.

“A complete overhaul of the existing dog control legislation is the only way to tackle the root causes of the tragic incidents we have seen in recent years.

“The Government must urgently take steps to deal with the unscrupulous breeders who are putting profit before welfare, and the irresponsible owners whose dogs are dangerously out of control.”

The Association of Dogs and Cats Homes (ADCH) also warned of increased abandonment rates and said the new rules may lead to a “postcode lottery” for vets being able to help owners meet the terms.

Figures show between 2001 and 2021 there were three fatal dog attacks a year, compared with 23 over the two-year period after that, with XL bullies said to be behind many of them.

The breed was added to the Dangerous Dogs Act on October 31 last year.

Restrictions then came into force dictating the dogs must be kept on a lead and muzzled in public.

Breeding, selling or abandoning the dogs also became illegal as of December 31 2023.

Owners of XL bully dogs in Scotland will also be subject at a later date to the safeguards after the Scottish Government replicated legislation in place south of the border.

A decision on whether to add to the list of banned breeds in Northern Ireland would be for locally elected ministers.

People with dangerously out of control dogs can be jailed for up to 14 years and banned from owning animals, and their pets can be put down.